Are you saving for retirement? If you are, then you can’t avoid wondering whether your retirement planning has your savings on track for you to live comfortably when you finally call it a career.
And how much money is enough?
On average, 401(k) plan members think they’ll need $1.9 million, according to Schwab Retirement Plan Services. And that’s up from $1.7 million a year ago.
Why the increase? The more risks that people see in the world, the more money they figure they’ll need in retirement, says Nathan Voris, senior managing director, business strategy, for Schwab Retirement Plan Services. And in this pandemic era, people see more risks all around.
The big question is: How can you build a retirement savings balance of $1.9 million — or whatever other figure fits your needs? It’s certainly doable. The number of IRAs and 401(k) accounts with balances of $1 million or more held by Fidelity Investments customers surged to 428,000 by June 30.
Here are five steps that retirement planning experts urge investors to take.
Retirement Planning Step #1: Make A Plan
Voris is a big advocate of planning ahead. But a young worker does not need a plan that’s as complex as an older person’s, he says.
“A 24-year-old who’s just starting to work and save for retirement might only need a plan that tells him how much to contribute to his 401(k) account, how much to contribute to his health savings account (HSA), how to pay off student loans and how to afford rent,” Voris said.
A married 60-year-old may need not only needs guidelines for accumulating wealth. He also might need advice about things like about how to spend decades worth of savings and how much longer to work.
“A plan’s level of detail depends on your age and needs,” Voris said.
Retirement Savings Step #2: Start Early
The more time you give your retirement accounts to compound their earnings, the easier it is to amass $1.9 million — or however much your retirement planning goal calls for.
Suppose you start working at age 25 with a salary of $50,000. You sock away 10% of your pay a year plus another 3% from a company match. Say you average a 1% pay raise annually and your investments earn an average of 7% a year.
That pay level and contribution rate are right around national averages. Your aim is to retire at age 70.
Can you reach that goal? Yes. You’d be a tad over your goal with $2.03 million a year early — by age 69 — according to the 401(k) calculator at calculator.net.
But if you wait until age 35 to start saving, by age 70 your nest egg would be worth $1.136 million. That’s a hefty $764,000 short of your goal.
If you wait until age 45 to start, you’d end up with $561,480.
Retirement Planning Step #3: Maximize Your Company Match
Company contributions are like free pay raises. You should kick inasmuch as necessary from your own pay to earn your company’s maximum contribution.
Otherwise, you are turning down a pay raise.
Look at it this way. Remember our example of starting to save at age 25? You end up with $2.03 million a year early, at age 69. But some matches don’t kick in unless you save enough first. If yearly contributions consist only of your own 10% of pay without any 3% company match, by age 70 you’d end up with more than $500,000 less — just under $1.7 million.
That’s a steep price to pay for faulty retirement planning.
Retirement Savings Step #4: Refrain From Early Withdrawals And Loans
Taking money out early sets back your saving — usually permanently. For decades, that’s been a retirement planning no-no.
Still, amid the coronavirus pandemic, millions of Americans have suffered a pay cut and/or job loss. “In the current environment, I advise differently than I would have five years ago, when I felt the blanket concept was that loans and early withdrawals were bad, period,” Voris said.
Now, if a 401(k) loan or early withdrawal is the only way to cope with a financial emergency, Voris gives grudging consent. Otherwise, don’t take money out early.
Retirement Planning Step #5: Invest Appropriately For Your Age, Goals And Risk Tolerance
That means workers in their 20s, 30s and 40s should invest largely or exclusively in stocks and stock funds. Stocks provide the growth that young investors need.
Young investors have time on their side. They can wait for the stock market to rebound from any downturn, as it always has.
Even investors in their 70s or older should keep a hefty portion of their portfolios in stocks. At a time when more people expect to live into their 90s, you still need securities that provide growth in your golden years.
How much stock? Either buy or imitate target date funds or asset allocation funds whose mix of stocks, bonds and other securities jibes with your own risk tolerance and time frame, which you’ve determined through thoughtful retirement planning.